The Street Vendors Act was passed by the Parliament in 2014. Arbind Singh, National Coordinator of NASVI (National Association of Street Vendors of India) discusses with Nirupama Sekhri how the Act has progressed and what all still needs to be done to integrate natural/organic markets into the urban economy and landscape
The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act fortunately is an empowering one. It brings all sections of vendors under its umbrella and is a very powerful tool in changing mindsets. It has helped to challenge and change society’s negative perceptions about street vendors, as well as giving vendors confidence and affirmation about their own role. Earlier, the street vendors themselves used to feel guilty, but now they too are beginning to feel that they have a right to be where they are and have a contribution to make to society.
I think the contribution of Ajay Maken and Rahul Gandhi cannot be underestimated. They played a significant part in drafting of the Bill which was introduced in the Lok Sabha in September 2012 by then Union Minister for Urban Development, Kumari Selja.
It is a unique Act in the world, one of its very important stipulations being that vendors cannot be summarily evicted till a proper surveying and licensing process has been undertaken, many vendors have got relief from the court because of this, like in Jama Masjid in Delhi and in Bihar also.
Of course, like all other laws in the country, implementation takes a lot of time. At the time the Act was passed, the Urban Livelihood Mission was also being discussed, and it was decided that five percent of urban development fund would be earmarked for vendors – for surveying, for creating and maintaining vending zone, etc. But it has depended on how interested State Governments have been to move on the Act.
See, vendors have always been around and every State and municipality has been dealing with their vendor groups in their own way. The Vendor Bill offers guidelines by which local governments should protect and guide vending zones in their areas.
Most states have been very slow in making these schemes, and in fact only eight states have really acted on it. These include Assam, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Orissa, Telangana, Karnataka where identity cards have been issued to vendors, besides
Bihar and Delhi. Maharashtra perhaps offers the example of a State that is the most conflicted in the way it is dealing with its vendors. Different things keep happening there.
Besides the slow implementation of the Act, another weakness is that vendors themselves are insufficiently involved in the planning process. Delhi is a classic example of this. The scheme that Delhi Government came up with had many anti-vendor provisions that were removed only after vendors agitated and went to court. The High Court ne sarkar ko latada (pulled them up severely),” says a vendor familiar with the case. So states are experimenting with schemes but this needs to be quicker and in a more cooperative way.
There is a special and urgent need to protect vendors in small towns where they are even more vulnerable to exploitation and corruption. For instance, at night young men come brandishing a revolver and demanding whatever they want from vendors, the police are indifferent. Again, women vendors are even more vulnerable and grave insecurity invariably hovers over them.
The Act itself says that Town Vending Committees that are set up should have one-third women, and no decision should be taken without their approval. The Delhi Government has also made a provision for 30 percent of all certificates to be issued to women vendors.
But this is also a new process for us and requires learning for the vendors because though about 150 vending committees have been set up, they are also not used to working in this manner. However, as long as there is a multi-stakeholder committee that comes together, at least it sensitises and informs the municipal governments and the police in understanding their roles to support vendors.
The social fabric of a society also plays an important part. In Manipur for example there are a lot of women vendors. But women in general there are empowered, strong, and historically entire markets are run by women there. So a general sensitisation and empathy of society is also helpful.
Corruption and Mafia
Although the Act expressly follows the ‘land to the tiller’ concept and says that you are classified as a vendor only when it is just an individual and/or his/her family running the business and that your certificate cannot be given or ‘rented’ to others, but in many markets around the country vendor mafias are operating.
They give you the right to vend in certain areas and they have to be paid. This happens right here in Delhi in Sarojini Nagar for instance. And it is really sad because despite the money paid to the mafia sometimes is as high as Rs 4 lakh a month, they do not provide adequate safety or security. Our organisation has been working with vendor groups there and in Okhla Mandi, but it’s a tough struggle and needs solid support of municipal governments and the police.
Just this month, Jodhpur has declared some vending zones and provided the vendors with distinctive, colourful pushcarts and umbrellas, which is an encouraging thing.
Role of the Central Government
The weaknesses in the way the Central Government generally functions can be seen here too. There are 5 regional training centres that have been identified to support vendor training and development, but not much has been done on the ground. The police and municipality work at cross-purposes. We identify a good area for a vending zone and the municipal government makes it a parking zone!
Bureaucrats are not sufficiently trained to have a vision to manage urban areas. They come to a town or city after having served as collectors in rural areas which is a completely different learning. Our cities are not prepared with plans and regulations to cope with increase in migration. The hundreds of crores being earmarked for Smart Cities are not paying enough attention to soft infrastructure and governance issues.
The Central Government had made, as it often likes to, a draft model scheme for vendors. It was maha bekaar (totally useless), it had absurd ideas like vendors have to be 100 metres away from temple buildings, so many metres away from a road crossing. These cannot be blanket rules but may vary from locality to locality. This is the job for town vendor committees to do.
When I met with the Union Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and said we should have a meeting to discuss these issues, he said you call the meeting, I’ll come. Why? Kanoon Ka Prachar Karna Government Ka Kaam Hai (propagating the Act is the Government’s job). It has the infrastructure and money to do it whereas we are a small organisation. They did everything in their power to promote their Land Bill, so why not this?
For Ludhiana Government asked our organisation to make them a model for a vendor zone. We say why? The city has been allocated 200 crores under the Smart City project of which social inclusion is also one of the categories, the Government has so many technical, engineering, management colleges and institutions, why can’t they help us make relevant, usable models that really work, but instead you end up asking us!
Grievance redressal mechanism
According to the Act street vendors who have a grievance can appeal to a dispute redressal committee that is supposed to be constituted by the local authority. The committee should consist of one sub judge/judicial magistrate or an executive magistrate and other persons experienced in street vending and natural markets. The committee has to redress the grievance within the time period specified in the scheme.
Some processes for grievance redressal have started in Delhi. In Bihar too there has been a proposal moved to set up a state level committee, but this has been slow in forming and will take off once the Act starts becoming more actively implemented.
Not much has been done in this area. Vendors continue to be dependent on loan sharks. The Mudra scheme was floated by the Government but didn’t quite take off. We have initiated a Sanchay thrift cooperative for people to get money, it is taking off slowly. Many of our vendors have bank accounts, credit schemes need to be linked to it, like the Jan-Dhan Yojna for instance, even a Rs. 5,000 credit card would help a lot, but not much is being done.
Insurance and Security
Health insurance is also only on paper. Vendors continue to be fully exposed to accidents and disability. There was the Atal Pension Yojna that was floated but it did not attract vendors. They cannot think of investing in something that will give them returns only when they turn 60. So many of them don’t live to see that age! Under NASVI we are trying to start a health insurance scheme.
Celebrating the Entrepreneurial spirit of vendors
You know vendors are not scared of Walmart or multi-national retail stores. They are only scared of being evicted – Abhi Unhe Koi Ujaad Ke Phek Dega (any time someone can uproot them). Street vendors are very entrepreneurial, they do fine, they don’t need minimum wages, they just need security, need to be free from harassment, be allowed to function smoothly without having to face spurts of their hard earned income drain on water, electricity, illegal fees – it is these elements that kill the spirit.
I’d like to give you the example of street food. Cities around the country have started promoting street food festivals. And you should see the enthusiasm among young people who come for it. Almost 80 percent of participants are the youth. You may have the McDonald’s and Pizza Huts but street food continues to be very popular. One of our vendors was nervous when we told him to offer his pao-bhaji which he used to sell for Rs 30-40 for Rs 60. He said no-one will buy it. We said we’ll buy his entire stock if that happened. He came back beaming in the evening. He was sold out!
The Start-up India scheme set-up by the Government is a good concept but it should be for everyone not just for big money or educated people. It should also encourage street vendors to participate and see how they can be helped. It needs to come down to their level. Our vendors have ideas and skill but they are not able to concentrate fully.
NASVI is a federation of 950 organisations, and one of the programmes we are working on is on food safety with the CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) and the Ministry of Tourism.
Food street vendors are given hygiene and safety training during which they are paid a stipend to compensate for the loss of income. You should see how enthusiastically they participate and take back the learning to their business. But then that learning has to also be supported with clean water supply, garbage dumping and cleaning practices. Conditions have to be made conducive to implementing what they have learnt.
What we need
The Government and the people need to provide a safe, secure place for vendors to work in, as any professional expects. Give it a time period – 9-10 years, but give through that time the full support and the vendors will thrive.
Street vendors are an integral part of the social and economic fabric of the country’s urban landscape and natural/organic markets need to be part of a town or city’s development.
Right now vendors are like khatron ke khiladi (playing with danger), dodging whatever problems are flung their way. There is no doubt that some of them have done very well, like the Bobby tikkiwala in front of our office – from selling tikkis on a pushcart, his sons have expanded the business to a nice, spacious shop. But their father’s journey has not been a pleasant one. That hard work put in through his life has not provided him with warm memories. His sangharsh (struggle) to success has been an unpleasant one. And that is not fair.